ZDAWU fights Exclusion of Domestic Workers from Social Protection

BY OWN CORRESPODENT

The Zimbabwe Domestic and Allied Workers Union (ZDAWU) filed a Constitutional Application in the High Court of Zimbabwe challenging the Legislation on Social Security for excluding domestic workers who provide services in private households. In the claim, they presented the cases of three domestic workers who suffered severe injuries -some of them irreversible and disabling- as a result of workplace accidents and were denied compensation by the National Social Security Authority.

ZDAWU is asking the High Court to declare Section 4 (3) (e) of the National Social Security Authority (Accident Prevention and Workers Compensation Scheme Statutory Instrument 68 of 1990) constitutionally invalid as it violates section 56 (1), (3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The union is also demanding that the Minister of Labor amend said regulation and include domestic workers in this social protection scheme within three months.

The clause that explicitly excludes domestic workers who provide services in private households from coverage for workplace accidents is clearly unjust, as it makes an arbitrary distinction between these workers and those who perform the same tasks in other types of establishments. Domestic workers are considered “employees” according to Labour Law and sector-specific regulations (DWs Employment Regulations Statutory Instrument 377, of 1992), and the definition of “employee” in the National Social Security Act is consistent with that, which makes this exclusion even more inexplicable.

According to Toindepi Dhure, General Secretary of ZDAWU and Vice-president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), “such unfair discrimination is unreasonable and unjustifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality, and freedom, especially when such discrimination is a remnant of the colonial era.”

This segregationist regulation discriminates against a specific group of domestic workers based on gender, class, and social status, as the majority of individuals engaged in domestic work in private households have historically been marginalized and impoverished women. Denying them access to any social security benefits also implies a violation of their rights to dignity and equity, enshrined in the National Constitution, as well as other labour, social, economic, and human rights recognized in international instruments adopted by the Republic of Zimbabwe. 

“What makes this unfair discrimination even more unjustifiable is the fact that the Ministry of Labour, as an arm of the Executive, is enjoined to take legislative and other measures to promote the achievement of equality and to protect people who have been disadvantaged by discrimination. The role of the Constitution is to create a break with the past: to transform the society of Zimbabwe to ensure that the injustices of the past do not continue to follow through in a Constitutional dispensation,” emphasized Dhure.

While Zimbabwe has not ratified ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, domestic work is regulated in the country by the Labour Acts of 1984 and 1985 (amendment), as well as by the First and Second Schedules of Statutory Instrument 126/2011, which establish a floor of rights for the sector: minimum wage, written contract, working hours, rest time, overtime, annual leave, maternity leave and benefits, sick leave, notice of termination of contract, freedom of association, and allowances for accommodation, lighting, transport, food, and water. Domestic workers are also protected from economic, physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse from their employers through the Domestic Violence Act.

ZDAWU’s decision to bring this case to Court has successful precedents in other parts of the world, where it has proven to be an effective strategy not only for compensating affected workers but also for achieving rights in favour of all domestic workers. A good example of this is the case of Mexico: in 2018, following a legal action promoted by domestic workers’ organizations on behalf of a woman who had worked for 50 years without access to social protection, the Supreme Court ruled that employers must register domestic workers with the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).

To this promising initiative is added another excellent news: on April 3, and as a result of the social dialogue driven by ZDAWU, the first Domestic Employers Association of Zimbabwe (DEAZ) was officially established and registered with the Ministry of Labour. A new stage is coming for domestic workers in the country, in which collective bargaining will surely result in a substantial improvement in their working and living conditions. Good job, ZDAWU comrades! (https://idwfed.org/news/africa-news)

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